Dealing with Envy
One of my favorite episodes of Tiny Toon Adventures deals with a “green-eyed monster,” and it offers a great lesson in the power of envy, of seeing what someone else has and wishing it were yours, or thinking somewhat differently about the person because he or she has something that you don’t have. Envy is so strongly related to jealousy and covetousness that many of us, myself included, have a very difficult time defining the lines that separates the terms.
I’ve been fortunate, in a way, to have grown up without a great deal of envy. In my case, though, the lack of envy was brought about by the presence of a defeatist attitude–I’ve always considered most things out of my reach, so it’s never been worth the effort to envy anyone. (This defeatist attitude is a common trait of adult children of alcoholics, I’ve since learned.) There are some things that I’ve envied, such as the ability to feel confidence in oneself, the ability to express oneself well, and the ability to be able to form strong friendships and keep them. I’ve also envied people with strong families and a sense of roots, a sense of stability. But even these things have seemed so far away from possible for me that I haven’t wasted a lot of emotional energy on feelings of envy.
I suppose the most insidious aspect of envy is the “I wish I were” or “I wish I had” attitude that reflects dissatisfaction with our current situations. As soon as I see someone else who’s able to enter a crowd of people that he or she has never met before and carry on conversations and meet people immediately, I start to think, “I wish I were like that,” or “I wish I could do that.” When I see that kind of person, I wish that I were somehow different, that I were in some ways like that person.
But the bottom line is simple: I’m not like that person. I have a hard time in crowds, and friendships take a long time to develop in my life. That’s the way I am, and things are fine that way. I am who I am, and I have to accept that or change it. But feelings aren’t immediately changeable. Yes, there are times when I’m feeling particularly “up,” and a crowd to me is nothing more than a bunch of people I’d like to meet, and I can function fine in that crowd. But that’s a part of me that’s out of character–normally I’m not so outgoing. And to spend time wishing that I were like someone else who’s different from me is to waste time–if I truly wish to be that way, then I’ll take classes on functioning in crowds, and I’ll study methods for meeting with people and talking with them. But even if I do that, I know that in many ways, I’ll be working against my nature. I’m a reserved person, and I’m fine with that. The trick for me is not to feel that “I wish I were” like someone else when I see behavior that I’m not capable of.
There’s only one antidote for envy: self-acceptance. Be who you are and love it. You were made that way for a reason. If you want to change something and you feel it’s important to do so, then do everything you can to change that aspect of yourself. But don’t try to change who you are. You’re only fooling yourself if you think you’re doing so, and you’ll fool very few others, who will be able to see through whatever mask you put on. Yes, this person’s more attractive than I am, but so what? I was made to look the way I look. Yes, this person has a job that gives him or her more prestige than mine, but so what? I love my job, and if I want that prestige, I’ll go back to school and study whatever I need to learn to get such a job.
It’s kind of funny (and kind of sad) how many people think that God is infallible and can’t make mistakes; yet you’ll find these same people out “correcting” God’s mistakes through facelifts, breast enlargement, plastic surgery, or the like. You’ll find them making their lives miserable by buying a car or house that they can’t really afford, thus creating future financial problems. You’ll find them losing weight to the point of becoming sick, and you’ll find them discouraged when their “new look” doesn’t bring about the results they thought it would. You’ll find them telling inappropriate jokes because they heard someone else tell the same joke, and that person got a good response, and they want to be viewed in the same way that person is viewed.
People hurt themselves and sabotage their chances at happiness all the time because they envy someone else who seems to have all the qualities that they wish they did. Please don’t let this happen to you. Accept yourself for who you are, and don’t try to be someone else or reach someone else’s standards. You are who you are because you’re supposed to be. If you feel you can improve in some ways, then work at improvement, but always take time to take stock of the many, many positive aspects of who you are. Be aware that envy is a sign (or cause) of dissatisfaction, so use those feelings of envy as a gauge–do they represent something I truly need or would like to change, or do they represent a fundamental aspect of who I am, and I would be doing the world and myself a disservice by changing that particular part of myself? You have many great qualities–take them for what they are, and don’t belittle them for what they aren’t.